My experience with Marija Kavtaradze’s Lithuanian film is an example of how one’s appreciation of a film can change over time. I initially was disappointed with this road trip movie about mental illness, as I felt that it did not address the subject head-on enough. However, my friend pointed out that, in a lived day of someone with mental illness, perhaps there would not be a lot of overt discussion about that topic. I, now, believe that this film achieves more effectiveness by being subtle about the effects of mental illness – because mental illness often impacts our lives in subtle, nuanced ways.
Indre (Indré Patkauskaité) has been roped into ferrying psychiatric patients Paulius (an unforgettable Paulius Markevicius) and Juste (Gelminé Glemžaité) to another facility where Paulius is to stay and Juste is to get a consultation. Indre is less than enthused about the task that has been assigned to her by the “arrogant” psychiatrist in charge, but wants to work with him on a research project, so she complies. Paulius has bipolar disorder, and at first, chooses to be mute. When he decides to start talking, Indre’s inexperienced reaction is somewhat hilarious, but also indicates the constant scrutiny that Paulius may be tiring of. Juste has survived a suicide attempt and is mostly muted, while the energized Paulius chews up the scenery.
Perhaps, I was disappointed as I came in expecting some large moral about mental illness to strike me on the head. Rather, you are just along for the ride as these patients go to the second hospital. What is immediately rewarding about this film is the understated way that mental illness is treated. This is not One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (though it contains at least one direct reference to that classic), or Ryan Murphy’s interpretation of an asylum in American Horror Story where the patients run amok. The characters are individuals who have suffered but who yearn to enjoy what life has to offer, even if it is as simple as playing a prank or sharing a joke.
The film also does not shy away from showcasing the limitations of the mental healthcare system in place in Lithuania. Like in Canada, patients are being shuttled to other locations, and moments of transition can be frightening and may disrupt the consistency of regular care, attention, and medication. Indre may not be the best person for the task, but with the limited funding available and the resources of the first facility being prioritized elsewhere, she is the only person the hospital can spare that day.
This is a film that will resonate with you if you let it. I’m thankful to my friend for helping me question my assumptions and expectations.